Assisted suicide ‘unsafe and unethical’ says senior doctor

The majority of doctors in Scotland are “resolutely opposed” to assisted suicide as it is “unsafe and unethical”, a consultant physician in palliative care has said.

Dr Stephen Hutchison was responding to a letter to The Herald from a group of eleven doctors who expressed support for MSP Margo MacDonald’s Bill to legalise assisted suicide.

Her latest attempt, which was introduced at Holyrood in November last year, would allow people as young as 16 with a terminal illness or progressive life-shortening condition to tell their GP about their wish for assisted suicide.


But in his letter to The Herald, Dr Hutchison said: “The criteria in the bill are so poorly defined and broad in scope that eligibility for assisted suicide could apply to a huge range of conditions which can be effectively treated or palliated.”

He explained that it would be “unprofessional and unethical” for a doctor to help with suicide in these circumstances.

Dr Hutchison said that while some doctors may support Margo MacDonald’s Bill, the “overwhelming majority remain resolutely opposed” to a change in the law.


He highlighted the opposition of the British Medical Association, the Association for Palliative Medicine, the British Geriatric Society, the World Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

He said: “The vast majority of doctors oppose assisted suicide because we know it is unsafe and unethical.

“Patients need to have confidence that the doctor’s attention will be directed exclusively towards supportive care and the provision of means to control the illness or condition, and its symptoms”, he added.


Margo MacDonald’s previous attempt to legalise assisted suicide in 2010 was soundly defeated by MSPs.

Her End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill was rejected by 85 votes to 16.

The letter from the group of eleven doctors supporting Margo MacDonald’s current assisted suicide Bill said that it would “complement the excellent palliative care that is already on offer in Scotland, not undermine it”.


They added: “We believe that the safeguards designed to protect the vulnerable are comprehensive and rigorous, with doctors being the best professionals to assess for any concerns regarding coercion.”

The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill is yet to complete Stage 1 of the parliamentary procedure.

Related Resources